Cervical Cancer - Fact Sheet
Cervical cancer is an important health problem for women. There are different stages of the disease before invasive cancer occurs. Risk factors for developing this cancer are closely related to sexual activity. Here are some fact about this disease.
What are the different stages before cancer appears
Cervical cells can undergo changes called dysplasia (dis-play-sha), or sometimes called pre-cancerous condition. Dysplasia can be graded as mild, moderate or severe. The next step is localized cervical cancer, and then invasive cancer. The period of time it takes for mild dysplasia to progress to cervical cancer varies but can sometimes be short.
What are the symptoms of dysplasia
There are usually no symptoms associated with dysplasia or early cancer. Large lesions of cervical cancer can sometimes cause unusual vaginal bleeding or bleeding after sexual intercourse.
What causes cervical cancer
We know that certain factors increase the risk that a woman may develop cervical cancer and many are related to sexual activity. Having started sexual intercourse before the age of 19, having many sexual partners or having sexual partners who have had many sexual partners can increase the risk of cervical cancer. Smoking also seems to increase the risk of this cancer.
Are STDs and cervical cancer related
Certain types of HpV (human papillomarivus), the virus that causes genital warts, have been associated with a higher risk of developing cervical cancer. Furthermore, women who are infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that causes AIDS) may be at higher risk of cervical cancer because HpV is more often found and the progression of the dysplasia to cancer may be faster.
What can be done can be done to prevent cervical cancer
postponing sexual intercourse until later in life, limiting the number of sexual partners, and using protection, such as condoms, against sexually transmitted diseases, may reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer. It is also very important to get a pap smear regularly.
What is the pAp smear
The pap smear is the test used to screen for cervical cancer, The procedure is usually painless. It can be done during a pelvic exam. The doctor or nurse gathers some cells from the cervix and then smears them on a slide. This slide is then sent to a laboratory where it is examined under the microscope to search for abnormal cells. The lab will look for dysplasia, cancer or signs of infection with HpV and some other infections. pap smears are not necessarily done every time you have a pelvic examination. Therefore, it is important that you ask if it was done. You should have a pap smear every year, especially if you have any of the risk factors mentioned above.
What can happen if I don't get pAp smears
The pap smear can detect dysplasia and cancer. If a woman has dysplasia, she can have more tests and get treated before the condition progresses to cancer. Because dysplasia causes no symptoms, there is no way a woman can know she has it or not unless she gets regular pap smears. If no pap smears are done, the cancer will be detected at later stages, will be more difficult to treat and may lead to death.
What can happen if I get an abnormal pAp smear
You will need more tests and treatment, or have more frequent follow-up pap smears, depending on the result of the pap smear. It is very important that you follow the recommendations of your doctor or clinician.
Where can I get a pAp smear
Your regular doctor usually does pap smears and you can ask him or her about this.
STD clinics do not offer this service. However, the nurse at the clinic can refer you to other clinics, health centers or family planning clinics in your area that provide pap smears.